Do you keep a sticker chart for your favorite television show, rewarding yourself with a shiny star sticker each time you watch an episode?
Do you have a punch card for spending time with your best friend, allowing yourself an ice cream cone if you can make it through five visits?
Did your partner offer to give you ten dollars if you would rock your babies to sleep for twenty nights in a row?
Well, why not?
Because you don’t need to be offered a reward to do something you enjoy, right?
Back to that tv show. If before you had ever watched an episode of it, someone told you that you could have a dollar for each episode you watched, what would you think about the quality of that show? You’d probably think that it’s so crummy that they have to pay people to watch it.
If before you had ever met your best friend, someone had offered you a free ice cream cone if you’d just spend time with her (or him!), what would you have presumed? You probably would have thought this person you hadn’t met was so dull or annoying that no one would willingly spend time with her (or him!).
You see where I’m going with this…
If we attach rewards to reading, we are likewise teaching our children that reading isn’t worth doing for its own sake. We’re treating it as icky medicine that needs to be chased with something sweet.
Those of us who read as adults don’t do so because anyone bribes us with prizes. We do it because the prize is reading itself.
Now, before you think that I’m a mean ol’ school marm who wants to take all the fun out of summer reading, let’s back up.
Eager readers do fun stuff all the time. I call that fun stuff Reading Life Celebrations. The goal here isn’t to offer these things as rewards, but to frame them as part of the fun of being immersed in the Reading Life.
Examples of Reading Life Celebrations:
- Bookstore Visit – At our house, this ritual is known as bookstore camping. We roam all relevant sections of the bookstore, piling up any and all books that pique our interest, then we hit up the bookstore café for a treat, and finally we spend all the time we like perusing the pile of books we’ve collected. It’s nice to occasionally offer to buy a book or to let kids spend money they’ve saved up on a book, but sometimes just jotting down favorite titles for a wishlist can be fun, too.
- Library Visit – A leisurely library visit is all the fun of the bookstore, minus the café treat. PLUS they let you take the books home with you for FREE! Amazing.
- Poetry Café – We called it poetry café day when I was teaching high school, but it’s more popularly known as poetry tea time in homeschool circles. The idea is that everyone selects a poem to share, and everybody gets to enjoy a treat or a special drink. The really cool thing about poetry café time is that it goes a long way toward building positive connotations around reading and the written word.
- Surprise Magazine Subscription – We grownups are jaded by the perpetual flood of bills in the mail, but do you remember how thrilling it was to get mail as a child? Magazines offer that feeling of specialness on a monthly or quarterly basis and offer your child a regular diet of information on a topic that interests him or her.
- A Library Card of One’s Own – If your child has never had a library card of his or her own and is showing responsibility in caring for library materials and returning them in a timely fashion, the grown-up responsibility of a library card can feel like an important rite of passage for kids.
- Movie Night – Family movie night with special snacks and closeness with the ones we love is always special, but watching the movie adaptation of a book you’ve shared together is extra special and memorable.
- Book Club or Book Party – Even as a grown-up, book club night is one of the highlights of my month. Getting together with friends to talk about a book we all committed to read is a unique and wonderful bonding experience. Readers of all ages have a real need to talk about the books we read. If you can’t commit to a regular book club or if your children are younger, throwing a just-for-fun book party with themed snacks, costumes, and games is a great way to celebrate the fun of reading and provide the social element readers crave.
By all means, go to your library’s summer reading events. If there’s a bookstore nearby that wants to give your kids a free book, by all means, TAKE THE FREE BOOK. Just don’t frame things in terms of “If you will read X number of books, you will get ________.” Throw the Reading Life Celebrations in there just because they’re part of the fun of being a lifelong, avid reader.
At the core of your family’s summer reading there must be two things:
Good books. Really good books. Books that hook your kids for life.
And they get some choice. A lot of choice.
A family culture of reading wherein every member of your family reads, everyone talks about reading, read-alouds are part of the routine, and everyone participates in Reading Life Celebrations.
I promise, promise, promise you that if you focus on good books and a family culture of reading, your child’s reading life will grow far, far beyond what any personal pan pizza could entice.